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Behind The “K.C. Undercover” Disguises: Special FX Makeup Master Ed French

Ed French created prosthetics that transformed Zendaya (pictured) into Judge Dudley Theopolis. Photo credit: Disney Channel.

“K.C. Undercover”, the Disney Channel spy caper staring pop sensation Zendaya, gives Ed French what he loves most: a challenge.

“Interesting scripts and characters ignite the imagination and allow me to do interesting things,” said French.

An award winning special effects artist, French is a respected contributor in both the film and television world.  His first Emmy nomination came as a makeup department team member on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1991). He then went on to receive Emmy nominations for work on shows as diverse as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1999), MADtv (2000, 01) and “Grey’s Anatomy (2012), and won his first Emmy in 2007 for “House M.D.”.  In the theatrical side, French has worked on over fifty feature films, ranging from “Hellraiser: Bloodline” to “American Sniper” and received his first Oscar nomination in 1992 for “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”  When he was approached to do work on “K.C. Undercover”, French was excited by the opportunity to completely transform the young female lead, K.C. (Zendaya), into the numerous disguises she uses in her secret missions, from a male janitor to a saucy Southern belle to an older, distinguished judge.

Creating prosthetics during the first season of “K.C. Undercover” was ruled by the freshman show’s budget.   These early prosthetics were created primarily through foam rubber and stock prosthetics.  After the first season concluded, French approached executive producer Rob Lotterstein to review the process of prosthetics as well as present his future makeup plans for the show as it graduated into its second season.

“I described how I had to use generic (material and appliances) to create the characters; and how these came to look like add-ons,” said French.  “I described how I wanted to make a life cast to customize appliances.”

With the producers in full agreement, French started season two by making a full like cast of Zendaya; a process similar to the way a dentist takes a cast of one’s teeth.  A silicone base is spread over the skin’s surface to capture and impression of the person’s features.  From this mold a plaster model – or more correctly, models for more than one is generally made – is then created that mirrors the person’s features.  As French works on developing the features of a character, he can build molds that match directly to Zendaya’s bone and facial structure.  Once the appliance is molded, the final prosthetic pieces have an edge that is so thin and perfectly formed to her that it blends in perfectly.

Prior to any build, French reviews the character in the script and does research to present a variety of looks to the producers.  For a special one-hour episode of “K.C. Undercover”  entitled “Tightrope of Doom,” that aired Sunday, August 7, 2016, Zendaya played a secondary character named Judge Dudley Theopolis.   To transform Zendaya into this middle aged gentleman, French first focused on developing a look for the character.  Recognizing Theopolis was a surname of Greek origin, French began gathered images of authentic Greek individuals as well as judges – conducting a search for types similar to what a casting director would do.  Do to the high volume of photo references he reviews, he’s found online resources invaluable.  Compiling the looks, he presented recommendations for the character build, along with a variety of images, to the producers for their feedback.  Once the character’s image was agreed upon, French began working with his assistants at his makeup shop in Chatsworth, CA, to size, shape and build out the pieces.  Most of the appliances for “K.C. Undercover” are not re-usable so a few copies are made as backups.  From that point he generally has two to three days to create the appliances.

“Rob Lotterstein is really understanding of what I’m doing.  It’s a tight schedule but there is enough time,” said French.  “We always have a makeup test a day before shooting to go through and retouch anything.”

French feels the genesis of his connection to “K.C. Undercover” came from a Pepsi commercial he worked on, where, through the use of prosthetics, young basketball star Kyrie Irving was transformed into an 80 year old man.  French’s ability to orchestrate complete character transformations has not only been a hit with film and television producers such as those behind “K.C. Undercover”, it’s also resulted in work presented in webcasts and live events, such as a recent “Magic Mike XL” premiere where Channing Tatum went disguised as another man.  While his work on “K.C. Undercover” often results in his working independently, he enjoys working with a team of makeup artists to bring unique visions to life.  His strong collaborations with members of the makeup community have resulted in a number of talented artists working with him on “K.C. Undercover.”  They also result in his continued collaborations on a wide array of other projects.  Recently he contributed to a special effects makeup team lead by Eryn Krueger Mekash for the sixth installment of “American Horror Story.”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about that, or the ‘American Horror Story’ police will come looking for me,” joked French.

“Tightrope of Doom” and other “K.C. Undercover” episodes are available in their entirety on the Disney Channel app.  To learn more about “K.C. Undercover” please visit: http://disneychannel.disney.com/kc-undercover